The Buffalo Bills have to end the carousel at quarterback. But is this the year? Geno Smith will likely be off the board before the Bills are on the clock, which would force them to reach to fill the need. Perhaps the right move will be to wait until the second or third round and bring in a low-risk prospect to compete with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
2. Inside Linebacker
The Bills need a new leader in the middle of the defense after a disappointing year by Kelvin Sheppard. This could be a position they try to fill with a veteran free agent. If they address it early in the draft, Alec Ogletree could fill the need in the first round. Arthur Brown could be a second-round target.
3. Right tackle
The Bills offensive line was much improved in 2012, especially on the left side with Cordy Glenn showing promise as their new franchise left tackle. But the ride side of the line still needs some work, and veteran Erik Pears may have to battle a rookie for the starting job. Dallas Thomas and Justin Pugh could be second or third-round options.
It’s time for the New York Jets to move on. Mark Sanchez has been given plenty of opportunities to prove himself and he’s failed time and time again. While he will probably be on the roster in 2013, the Jets will likely bring in someone to compete for a starting job. In the second round, Tyler Wilson and Mike Glennon could be options.
2. Outside Linebacker
Rex Ryan’s defense has gotten progressively worse during his tenure in New York. And the primary reason for the struggles has been the lack of a pass rusher. This could be the Jets target in the first round. Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan both have the potential to offer an immediate threat, even if only in a specialist role.
3. Wide Receiver
Stephen Hill will be expected to take the next step in 2013, but the Jets clearly need another weapon. Since they need immediate help and are unlikely to address this need in the first round, the Jets may push to solve this issue in free agency.
1. Offensive Line
While the Arizona Cardinals obviously need a quarterback, it would be foolish to bring anyone in before the offensive line is fixed. Former 1st-round pick Levi Brown returns from injury, but he has been playing out of position at left tackle for years. 2012 4th-round pick Bobby Massie is coming off a season in which he led the league with 13 sacks allowed and may be better suited to play guard. Brown may be the only lineman whose job is relatively safe.
The Cardinals could be competitive with Kevin Kolb if the offensive talent, especially the line, were upgraded around him. But it has become clear that the quarterback of the future is not on the roster. Arizona may consider a quarterback in the first round, but the safer route would be wait until the second or third round and bring in a developmental prospect such as Ryan Nassib or Tyler Wilson.
Daryl Washington has emerged as one of the league’s premier inside linebackers, but there should be a competition for the other three linebacker positions in training camp. Paris Lenon is an unrestricted free agent, and the Cardinals don’t have an adequate replacement on the roster. Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles’ decision about sticking with the 3-4 or shifting to a 4-3 scheme will have a significant impact on how the front office approaches the linebacker position this offseason.
Justin Hunter WR Tennessee #11
Size/Athleticism: Elite height and impressive speed for a receiver of his height. Takes long strides and gets up to full speed quickly. Would benefit from adding some weight. Despite his height, he sometimes plays like a much smaller receiver because he lacks the strength to easily fight through press coverage. Has the speed and quickness to pick up extra yardage after the catch, but he sometimes tries to do too much. Hunter needs to know his limitations and cut down on the number of times he loses yardage after the catch.
Separation Skills: Elite height/speed combination makes him a dangerous weapon. He has the speed to stretch the field and also the size to consistently win jump balls. Surprisingly quick and sudden in his breaks for a guy of his height. Rounds off his breaks at times, another product of his lack of focus on the field. Overall, his route running needs polishing but he has all the tools to be elite in this area of his game.
Ball Skills: Very inconsistent hands. He has the athleticism to come down with some difficult catches, but he has issues with his focus and drops some easy ones. Has a tendency to double catch the ball, which will lead to even more drops at the next level when more of his receptions are contested. Basic fundamentals of catching the football are lacking. He frequently lets ball into his chest, has poor hand placement, or jumps unnecessarily while attempting to make a catch (see drop on 4th-and-4 at end of 2012 N.C. State for a great example). Does a nice job tracking the deep ball and adjusting to it in the air.
Intangibles: Shows an obvious lack of focus on the field. Mental mistakes were apparent in nearly every game in 2012 and played a significant role in Hunter falling well short of expectations. Became visibly frustrated on the field with poor throws from quarterback Tyler Bray.
Durability: Missed majority of 2011 season with a torn ACL.
Comments: Hunter is an extremely difficult prospect to evaluate. Do you focus on his elite talent? Or do you focus on the inconsistent play? He has all the measurables and raw skill to be an A.J. Green or Randy Moss type deep threat. But if he doesn’t correct the mental mistakes on the field he won’t be trusted by his quarterback and coaching staff. He is without question the most talented receiver in this year’s draft class, but it’s impossible to ignore his performance at Tennessee. For a player like Hunter, the interview process will be crucial to his evaluations. Each team will have to decide how comfortable they are with his dedication to correcting the mistakes.
Markus Wheaton WR Oregon State #2
Size/Athleticism: Slightly undersized but makes up for it with his elite speed and leaping ability. Impressive body control when working the sideline. Dangerous weapon in the open field. Has the speed to pick up chunks of yardage after the catch and also the agility to make guys miss in tight spaces. Impressive change-of-direction ability. Occasionally used on end-arounds and has no problem eluding slow-footed linebackers and linemen in tight spaces. Not strong enough to provide much help as a blocker, and doesn’t give much of an effort.
Separation Skills: Elite speed. Can stretch the field and few corners can match him step for step in man coverage. Has experience lining up wide and in the slot. Does a nice job adjusting his routes and finding the soft spot in zone coverage. Extremely quick feet. Explosive and sudden in his breaks. Can get knocked off his route by more physical corners, but has the speed to recover.
Ball Skills: Reliable hands. Occasionally gets sloppy and traps the ball in his chest, but in tight coverage he consistently attacks the ball with his hands. Does a great job tracking the ball over his shoulder on deep routes and making necessary adjustments to poorly thrown balls. Considering his size, his ability to go up and win jump balls is impressive. His athleticism really shows in this area as he does a nice job timing his jumps, and using his body to shield the defender to the best of his ability given the ball placement.
Intangibles: Coaches have praised him for his work ethic. Also active in community service projects away from the field. Went on a service trip to Guatemala in 2011.
Durability: Suffered a hip flexor injury in 2011 offseason. Knocked out of game vs Washington in 2012 after a big hit, but returned the following week.
Comments: Wheaton has the potential to be an elite weapon in the NFL. He isn’t a prototypical No. 1 due to his size, but he has the skills to play on the outside. His speed immediately stands out, but he is much more than just a pure deep threat. Wheaton’s ability to compete for balls in traffic is what sets him apart from other speed receivers. He’ll get pushed around at times by more physical defensive backs, but he doesn’t back down. And his elite athleticism allows him to put himself in position to battle bigger defensive backs for jump balls.
Quinton Patton WR Louisiana Tech #4
Size/Athleticism: Average height and overall build. Decent straight-line speed, but not a very explosive player. A very average all-around athlete for a receiver. He isn’t exceptionally quick in his breaks and doesn’t have the change-of-direction ability to be dangerous after the catch. Gives a solid effort as a blocker.
Separation Skills: Somewhat slow getting off the line of scrimmage. Experienced running a variety of routes, but not quick enough in his breaks. He just does’t seem to have the quick feet to make the sudden moves necessary to shake more athletic corners at the next level. Used on a lot of screens at Louisiana Tech, but he lacks the speed to be consistently effective in that role at the next level. Not a very physical receiver. He should have an easier time with smaller corners than he does (see 2012 Utah State game when matched up with 5’10″ Nevin Lawson).
Ball Skills: Good hands, but need to be more consistent attacking the ball. Has a tendency to let the ball come to him and he misses some opportunities when he should be more assertive and go up and get the ball. When he is more assertive, especially in jump ball situations, he consistently comes down with the ball. Does an exceptional job adjusting to the poorly thrown ball. Has a knack for putting himself in position to come down with the difficult catch.
Intangibles: Coaches speak very highly of his work ethic and character off the field. Transferred from Coffeyville Community College in 2011. Limited experience against top competition.
Durability: Suffered an ankle injury in 2011 but did not miss any time.
Comments: Patton has the skills to be a quality second option in an NFL offense. He doesn’t stand out in any one area and he lacks the basic measurables to ever be an elite receiver, but he is solid in just about every aspect of the game. I would like to see him develop into more of a physical receiver at the next level to make up for his limited speed. He lacks the athleticism to consistently lose defensive backs, so he’ll need to make his living coming down with contested catches. He’ll need to improve his ability to use his body to shield defenders and be more aggressive when going for the catch. He can’t afford to let the ball come to him in the NFL, because he won’t be able to create the separation necessary to have the extended time to secure the football that he often had in Louisiana Tech’s spread offense.
Keenan Allen WR California #21
Size/Athleticism: Above average height for the position, but plays smaller. A little on the skinny side, but appears to have the frame to add 5-10 pounds without losing speed. Can be a dangerous runner after the catch. Has the speed and athleticism to make guys miss. Not a physical runner though, he’ll avoid contact and won’t take on any defensive backs in an effort to pick up the extra yards. Has some experience returning kicks.
Separation Skills: Decent straight-line speed. He won’t run right past many corners at the next level but he has just enough speed to get over the top when he catches a corner sitting on a short route. Route running can be a little sloppy at times. He is definitely quick enough to make better breaks than he does, but he often rounds them off which will hurt him in the NFL. Shows good field awareness. Seems to always know where the sideline is and shows great control to stay in bounds when working the sideline. Has experience lining up in the slot and on the outside. At his best on the short routes; ran a lot of quick slants and curls at Cal.
Ball Skills: Does a great job tracking the deep ball and adjusting to put himself in position to make a play. Shows the quick reaction ability to adjust to poorly thrown balls, even on the shorter routes such as quick slants. Fairly consistent hands-catcher. Does a great job securing the ball quickly and turning upfield.
Intangibles: Coaches have spoken highly of his leadership skills
Durability: Missed time in 2012 offseason with an ankle injury. Suffered a knee injury in November which caused him to miss remainder of his senior year and may hinder his performance in offseason workouts.
Comments: Allen is an interesting prospect. Cal used him in much the same way they used DeSean Jackson but, physically, the two are very different receivers. Allen’s role in Cal’s offense was likely limited due to poor quarterback play – they simply didn’t have anyone that could consistently get him the ball downfield. As a result, the vast majority of his receptions came on short routes, within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. However, he has the size to be effective as a possession receiver on routes at the intermediate level. And while he lacks the speed to be a serious deep threat, he does have the size and athleticism to win jump balls on deeper routes. He’ll need to be groomed into this role at the next level, so his immediate impact may be minimal, but he clearly has the raw talent of a future No. 1.
Terrance Williams WR Baylor #2
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical height and overall build for an outside receiver. Great body control when working the sideline. Knows how to use his size to put himself in position to win the battle for jump balls. Gives a decent effort as a blocker and has the size to continue to improve. More dangerous with the ball in his hands than he gets credit for. Speed definitely isn’t elite, but he can make some guys miss and will break off some long runs.
Separation Skills: Limited straight-line speed. Doesn’t have that extra gear to lose defensive backs with his pure speed. Route running skills are fairly basic. Baylor offense didn’t require a complicated route tree. He ran a lot of go routes and curls in colleges and benefited from Baylor’s spread offense. He won’t consistently break free on the same routes at the next level. When running slightly more complicated routes, he doesn’t display the quickness in his breaks to consistently fool corners at the next level.
Ball Skills: Fairly reliable hands, but he’ll drop some easy ones when trying to turn up-field before securing the ball. Shows the ability to catch with his hands, but gets lazy and lets it get into his body at times. Tracks the deep ball and is able to adjust while it’s in the air. Does a nice job on jump balls, which should make him a quality red zone target. Tracks the ball and times his leap well and shows good body control when coming down along the sideline.
Intangibles: 5th year senior who will be a 24-year-old rookie.
Durability: Missed one game with an ankle injury in 2011.
Comments: Williams looks like a future solid No. 2 option in an NFL offense. He clearly has some physical limitations and he doesn’t do enough of the little things to make up for them. But he has fairly reliable hands and as he improves his route running he should be a reliable possession receiver on the outside. He’ll need some time to learn how to perfect NFL routes, but could contribute immediately in certain situations due to his size and ability to go up and fight for the ball in jump ball situations.
DeAndre Hopkins WR Clemson #6
Size/Athleticism: Adequate height and overall size. Strong enough to fight through press coverage. Shows great body control when working the sideline and adjusting to poorly thrown balls. Consistently finds a way to put himself into the best position to make a play.
Separation Skills: Lacks elite speed but has the ability to get over the top when he catches the defensive back off guard. One of the most polished route runners in this year’s draft class. Really excels at the nuances of his routes, sells his fakes and picks up those extra inches in separation that can prove to be the difference at the next level. Able to use double moves to gain that extra step that he needs to create separation on deep routes. Because defensive backs aren’t afraid of losing him over the top, he sees a lot of press coverage and typically does a nice job fighting through it.
Ball Skills: Reliable, but not elite hands. Rarely drops an easy catch, but doesn’t come up with a lot of tough catches when he’s hit immediately after getting his hands on the ball. Catches away from his body whenever possible and quickly secures the football. Frequently goes up and high points the ball. Despite his good hands, he’s not great in jump ball situations. Seems to lack that extra burst to allow him to explode upwards to gain the separation he needs to consistently win the battle with the defensive back.
Intangibles: No significant positives or negatives of note.
Durability: Suffered a concussion in a car accident in December, 2011.
Comments: Hopkins is arguably the most polished receiver in this year’s draft class. He lacks the measurables to be considered an elite prospect, but he has the tools to make an immediate impact. He lacks the speed to be an elite deep threat and lacks the size and strength to be an elite possession receiver, which makes me question his ability to be a true No. 1 in the NFL. But he is strong in all aspects of the game and should be a solid second or third option. He also has the skill set to excel in the slot. He reminds me of a faster version of Davone Bess, or a less physical version of Roddy White.
Cordarrelle Patterson WR Tennessee #84
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical height and build for a No. 1 receiver. A very good athlete for his size. Has experience running the wild cat and also occasionally lined up running back. Has 52 carries over the past two seasons between JUCO and Tennessee. Also returned kicks and punts. Definitely has the potential to contribute in multiple facets of the game. A dangerous runner with the ball in his hands. Once he secures the catch, he essentially becomes a running back. Has the size to go up and fight for the ball in traffic, but is still developing his technique in this area.
Separation Skills: Has the speed get over the top on deep routes. Route running needs some work. Only asked to run a fairly basic route tree at Tennessee. Most of his receptions came on drag and go routes, with an occasional post or comeback route mixed in. None of these required double moves and due to his speed he didn’t refine the nuances of the routes.
Ball Skills: Takes a very passive approach to catching the football. Consistently lets the ball come into his chest and rarely goes up to pluck the ball with his hands. Will need to learn to be aggressive at the next level. He made very few catches at Tennessee where Tyler Bray failed to put the ball on his numbers. He has the body control to put himself in position to make the difficult catches, but he just doesn’t have the technique down.
Intangibles: Did not qualify for NCAA eligibility academically out of high school which forced him to enroll at Hutchinson CC in Kansas.
Durability: No known injury concerns. Plays a physical style of football, especially after the catch and has remained durable throughout his career.
Comments: Patterson’s potential is obvious. He has the size, speed and overall athleticism to develop into a No. 1 at the next level. But he will definitely be limited early in his career. He reminds me somewhat of 2011 2nd-round pick Greg Little, who entered the league with elite potential but, as a converted running back, simply didn’t know how to play the position. Like Little, Patterson becomes a weapon once the ball is in his hands, but it may be a struggle to get him the ball at the next level. Patterson got away with catching the ball against his chest in college due to the windows that are open at that level, but in the NFL many passes that hit your chest will get broken up as corners will close significantly faster than they did in college. All of the concerns surrounding Patterson’s game can be fixed if he dedicates himself to learning the position, so NFL teams will want to learn more about how receptive he is to coaching and how quickly he picks up new techniques.